‘I begged the staff to let me end the pregnancy to save the baby’ – one woman’s story
‘I begged the staff to let me end the pregnancy to save the baby . . . I turned up in [a Dublin maternity hospital] because I knew I would be safe . . . I wanted the pregnancy to be over . . . and I needed the baby to be safe . . . because I was now feeling I wasn’t safe.”
These are the words of a young mother, Joanne*, whose biggest fear was that she would act on the terrifying impulsive thoughts of suicide that haunted her throughout the later part of her recent pregnancy.
Her fear was real.
That she would take her own life and with it the life of the baby she was carrying.
As the debate over the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill continues, women with a history of serious mental illness and suicidal intent can only look on and say nothing.
For some, this silence is born out of a crippling fear that if their story is heard they will be branded as mad, insane, selfish or, as some voices have suggested, mass manipulators of the medical profession.
While the suicidal clause in the proposed legislation is arguably one of the most contentious, we have heard from politicians, lawyers, doctors and various lobby groups on both sides of the debate.
We have not, however, heard from a woman who is seriously unwell and so distressed in pregnancy that for her, suicide seems a real option.
Suicide in pregnancy is rare but it does happen.
For one young Irish woman it very nearly did. Meeting her at the home she shares with her supportive husband and young family, I was struck by the large number of baby cards on the mantelpiece, each one wishing happiness and joy.
Her story, however, was far from joyful and clearly painful for her to tell. But, as she says, it was also the truth.
Joanne has a history of serious mental illness and self-harm. She was hospitalised four times between previous pregnancies and made three serious suicide attempts during this time.
She was sexually abused as a child and when she became unwell would suffer flashbacks to this traumatic time. She says that this, together with her history and a family background of mental illness, meant she entered her most recent pregnancy in need of specialised perinatal psychiatric care.
She explains that her symptoms intensified in the third trimester and these included having constant thoughts of self-harm and suicidal ideation.
“These thoughts intruded often, without warning. I might be doing a mundane task, like packing the dishwasher, when I’d feel an intense choking sensation in my throat and an overwhelming urge to hurt or kill myself.